Germans rising to the challenge

TERRY KOSHAN, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

LEKSAND, Sweden -- They have beaten the United States and knocked off Slovakia.

Can Germany do what might have been unthinkable less than a week ago and upset Canada today at the 2007 world junior championship?

"Yeah, why not?" said defenceman Korbinian Holzer, a Maple Leafs draft pick. "If we play our style, be strong defensively and stay out of the box, why not? It's all about the will to win. We have a good team with a lot of character and we have been getting outstanding goaltending."

That confidence is not hollow. Germany has done things in this tournament that no one expected.

In nine appearances at the world junior since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Germany was 8-48-2 prior to this event. It had not won two games in any tournament, and in its most recent participation in 2005, scored five goals in six games. It already has six goals.

What's the story with this club? It has only four NHL draft picks -- Holzer, Felix Schutz and Philip Gogulla (both by the Buffalo Sabres) and Constantin Braun (Los Angeles Kings). But assistant coach and former NHL defenceman Uwe Krupp, who lives in Atlanta and coaches his son Bjorn on a minor midget team there, said there's a difference in preparation.

"This is a great reward to our players," Krupp said of the two victories. "These boys go home for every summer with conditioning plans and they stick with it. It's one reason they are doing well.

"There will be no need for motivational speeches for us before the game against Canada. The boys are hopping and they don't need it."

Figuring largely in Germany's success has been goalie Sebastien Stefaniszin. The 19-year-old made 38 saves against the U.S. and 29 against Slovakia. Stefaniszin, one of several players who wears the colours of Berlin in the top German hockey league, has been instrumental, as his teammates have registered a total of 33 shots on goal.

About the only problem with Germany's run is few people back home likely are aware. That could change if an upset of Canada happens.

"Hockey is such a fringe sport," Krupp said. "We have a hard-core group of fans, but they almost have to be here (to know what is happening). It's not on radio or TV. For the boys it has been a great story."


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